In mid-June, 1944, Henri Matisse produced and dated several ink drawings each day for a week at his home in German-occupied Vence, in the south of France. That same month saw the beginning of the Allied invasion of France. Exiled Free French leader Charles de Gaulle returned to the country after four years, and the liberation of France occurred later that year. This ink drawing of a lively, leafy bouquet in rounded vase with a single handle is dated June 21, 1944. Sensitively drawn in spare, unshaded lines, this 20.2-inch-high work on paper describes simplified forms within a slightly tilted space.
Matisse was in Paris when the Nazis took the city in June 1940, but managed to escape to Nice in Vichy France. In 1941, he underwent surgery for abdominal cancer, from which he experienced complications that left him bound to a chair or bed. Painting and sculpture were physically challenging, and so he turned to cut-paper collages, called decoupage, and drawing.
Drawing was an important medium for Matisse during this period. In April 1942, Matisse wrote to his daughter, Marguerite Duthuit, about the work that would become Themes and Variations (Dessins, Themes et Variations): “For a year I have made a very considerable effort, one of the most important of my life. I have perfected my drawing and made surprising progress, like ease and sensibility liberally expressed, with a great variety of sensation and a minimum of means. It’s like a flowering. And it’s one of the things for which I wanted to continue living [Matisse was recovering from his operation]. I did an abundant quantity of drawings that are completely surprising.”
Henri Matisse was born in 1869, in Le Cateau in northern France. Over his six-decade-long career, he worked in various media, from painting to sculpture to printmaking. While his subject matter was quite traditional—nudes, figures in landscapes, portraits, interior views—his revolutionary use of brilliant colours, fluid lines, and exaggerated forms to express emotion made him one of the twentieth century’s most influential artists.